Geneva, Alabama—my wife and I are driving Highway 27. The sun is shining. The sky is blue.
I’m on my way to speak at the Farm City Banquet in Coffee County, Alabama. There, I will stand onstage and deliver mediocre entertainment to three hundred folks wearing cowboy hats and eating barbecue.
My brakes screech.
It’s a puppy, sitting in the center of a two-lane highway. Two green eyes, auburn hair, and floppy ears. There is some hound in her.
She’s planted on the yellow line, staring at my windshield.
I flip on my hazards. The puppy whimpers when she sees me come near. She is small. I can see every rib the Good Lord gave her. She licks my face.
There are few blessings greater than puppy breath.
I move her from the highway, into the grass. I bid her goodbye. She wanders into the road again.
So, I reason with this animal.
“Stay outta the highway, girl,” I’m saying. “You’ll get run over.”
She barks at me.
I carry her to the nearest porch—a shotgun house with rusty water heaters in the yard and a lopsided porch. Nobody’s at home.
I place her on the steps.
No sooner have I shut my vehicle door than I see a puppy on the pavement again.
I don’t have time for games. I’m running late. I have to be in New Brockton in thirty minutes. I explain this to the dog. She only licks me.
“Don’t lick me,” I warn her.
And I will love her until they lay me down.
She falls asleep in my lap while I drive. I hear her snore. We arrive at the non-pet-friendly hotel. My wife checks in; I carry a large cardboard box through the lobby. The box is whimpering.
“Sir, what’s in that box?” the clerk asks me.
“Don’t mind me, I’m a columnist—sort of.”
“Very good, sir. Enjoy your stay.”
I name her Jessie. I bathe her in the hotel shower. I shampoo her three times until the water isn’t brown anymore.
Later that night, Jessie is in my bed. I place her between my wife and I. Jessie begins the night by our feet.
2 A.M.—she’s resting on my stomach.
7 A.M.—her muzzle is buried in my ear. I can smell her breath.
I pet her. Jessie isn’t healthy, I can tell this. She’s got worms, fleas, and when she breathes, it’s labored. She needs a vet.
There’s a woman in Coffee County who is part of a no-kill refuge. Jo is her name. I call her. She meets me in a Chick-Fil-A parking lot to take Jessie.
For a final goodbye, my wife and I take turns kissing Jessie’s head. She licks us, I don’t mean to cry. Besides, I haven’t even known this stray dog for 24 hours.
But I hate goodbyes.
We place Jessie in the backseat of Jo’s car. I remind Jessie to be a good little girl. She stares at me. She doesn’t need reminders.
Jo drives away. I can still smell her puppy breath.
Someone once asked me if I was certain that God existed. Yes, I am. I know it with all my heart.
Because only God could’ve made dogs.